MEDFORD — Members of a heavily armed faction that engaged in an hours-long standoff Saturday with police on Interstate 95 in Wakefield sparred with the judge at their arraignment Tuesday, asserting that the court lacked authority to prosecute them on multiple firearms charges.
The theatrics in Malden District Court bogged down the proceedings for 10 members of the Rise of the Moors group and seemed at times to test the patience of the judge, who also had to contend with multiple disruptions from audience members logged into a live stream.
The group’s self-identified leader said he couldn’t fathom how the government was trying to lock him up for his alleged actions.
“I don’t understand how these charges can be brought against me,” Jamhal Tavon Sanders Latimer, 29, also known as Jamhal Talib Abdullah Bey, said during his arraignment.
A woman with a sequined shawl draped over her head holding an infant mouthed, “I love you” to Latimer from across the courtroom.
A not-guilty plea was entered on Latimer’s behalf, and Judge Emily A. Karstetter told him that at least one of the counts he faces carries a potential penalty of up to 10 years in state prison. Latimer was ordered held without bail pending a dangerousness hearing for him and other defendants set for Friday.
The members of the Rhode Island group are part of the sovereign citizen movement and contend they are outside the authority of the US government. They have said they are foreign nationals in the United States who were traveling through Massachusetts under a Moroccan flag attached to their vehicles, and that their detention violated an 18th-century treaty between the United States and Morocco.
They were arrested Saturday after a tense confrontation with police, who were forced to shut down a busy highway on a holiday weekend and order nearby residents to shelter in their homes. The standoff ended peacefully, without so much as a single shot fired.
Latimer told police the men were a militia group taking their guns to property Latimer had in Maine, the prosecutor, Graham Van Epps, said Tuesday. None of the men had driver’s licenses.
At the arraignments, which took place amid a heavy State Police presence, the suspects faced Karstetter one by one, refusing to answer her questions directly or those of the Probation Department and defense lawyers who were poised to represent them.
Quinn Cumberlander, a 40-year-old Pawtucket man, sparred with Karstetter as she tried to get past the first stage of his arraignment on illegal gun possession charges.
“I am making sure that you are waiving your right to a lawyer,” Karstetter repeated while trying to ensure Cumberlander fully understood the consequences of moving forward without one.
“Objection,” Cumberlander said. “I am not under no circumstances waiving my rights whatsoever, because I am a foreign national. … I do not need a lawyer or an attorney.”
But was Cumberlander thinking clearly, the judge wanted to know.
“I 100 percent am competent enough to understand the words coming out of your mouth,” the suspect said.
The exchange over that single issue stretched some 20 minutes in which Cumberlander invoked his Second Amendment right to bear arms, insisted that the case should shift to federal court under the US Constitution, and insisted he could not be prosecuted in the state court. He and his codefendants referenced treaties, articles, and doctrines.
Defense lawyer George Ohlson told the judge he tried to interview Cumberlander but Cumberlander refused to cooperate. “He said I was fired,” Ohlson said.
When the judge advised Cumberlander that one of his charges carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in state prison, someone in the courtroom whispered, “Wow.”
“I do understand the severity of this,” Cumberlander said.
And so it went for hour after hour in Courtroom 1 at the courthouse in Medford: exhaustive circuitous arguments as the judge heard from most defendants and entered not guilty pleas for each. The Malden court is currently operating in Medford while repairs are made to the Malden courthouse.
Supporters and relatives of the Moors — who do not believe Black people are citizens of the United States — turned out by the dozen. Some donned burgundy fezzes and satin stoles, others wore ball caps and New York T-shirts. Most of the women wore headscarves.
Constant Zoom disruptions hampered the proceedings. Calls of “high treason” and “lies” were peppered with “f--- the system.” Judge Karstetter repeatedly warned spectators to keep muted or face removal. At least two, including someone whose screen name was #FreetheMoors, were kicked out of the virtual setting.
One suspect who refused to identify himself or be fingerprinted, struck a more heated tone than most. He interrupted the judge repeatedly.
“I am a free Moor, a living breathing man, I am not a fictitious entity, this is wrong,” said the man, named by the court for this proceeding as John Doe No 1. He had a child and wanted to see his family, he said.
“This is my life you are playing with here,” Doe said. “What’s going on here? You are not respecting the Constitution or the Declaration of Human Rights.”
Karstetter ruled during the afternoon session that Doe had waived right to counsel. And because he repeatedly interrupted the judge, she ordered him to leave the courtroom and watch the remainder of the proceedings on Zoom.
Another defendant, Robert Rodriguez, told the judge he refused to be interviewed by Probation — as is routine for every defendant before arraignment — because he had not committed a crime.
“I was seen by a probation officer,’' Rodriguez said. “But I did not commit a crime.”
However, in the end, he agreed to speak with a court-appointed attorney.
Aside from a 17-year-old who was not identified by name, the arrested men’s ages range from 21 to 40; the majority are in their 20s. Two are from Rhode Island; one from Detroit; one from Baldwin, N.Y., on Long Island; and four from the Bronx, N.Y.
Latimer, the group’s leader who broadcast live on social media during the standoff, is a former US Marine whose parents continue to support him.
According to the Marine Corps, Latimer joined the service in 2010 and left active duty in 2015 with the rank of corporal. He worked as a construction wireman and tactical switching operator and was never deployed overseas, the records show.
He apparently went on two cruises with the US Navy leading to his twice being given a Sea Service Deployment ribbon. He also was given the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal as part of his service with the Corps. His personal award was the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the service said.
Latimer told the judge he would represent himself even though he did not see how he could even be facing charges as a Moor.
When the judge asked Latimer if he had been coerced in his decision to represent himself he said: “Yes, by you.”
His response drew laughter, a hand clap or two, and sharp looks from courtroom deputies.
John R. Ellement and Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Tonya Alanez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.